Driving an F1 car may look no more physically stressful than driving a road car for two hours without a break, but the reality is very different. A Formula 1 driver undergoes extreme stress on their body as they race, and the high cornering speeds mean F1 drivers are subjected to immense G-forces.
G-force caused by the rapid acceleration and high-speed cornering in an F1 car can make a driver feel like they weigh up to 6 times their normal weight. A driver needs to be in peak physical condition to cope with the stresses their bodies are put under throughout a 1.5-to-2-hour race.
It’s hard to appreciate just how much g-force affects a driver in F1, as it’s like being on a rollercoaster, only a lot more stressful. Cornering at up to 190 mph pushes the driver’s internal organs around and blood pressure fluctuates wildly. Below, we further discuss the effects of g-forces in F1.
G-forces are what we experience when under acceleration or deceleration in a given direction, expressed in multiples of the Earth’s gravitational pull or “g’s.” F1 drivers experience these multiples when accelerating or braking, and especially so when cornering at high speeds.
Gravity is usually pretty constant for most of us. After all, you weigh what you weigh, and that’s basically it. There are two types of force to consider, vertical, and lateral. Vertical is where the Earth’s gravity keeps everyone firmly on the ground, and that is why we don’t float away. The second form of force, lateral, is where things get interesting for an F1 driver.
Moving either forward or backward, and side to side, lateral force, or lateral g’s, is where you can feel the effect of additional force through accelerating/decelerating, or moving from side to side. For an F1 driver, the fear of floating away is negligible most of the time, so it’s lateral g’s that really put a driver’s body under stress.
When it comes to lateral g’s the speed at which you travel has a massive effect. As long as you’re on the ground, you’ll usually only experience 1 g, but if you’re flying around a track at 200 mph, the lateral g’s can be massive.
Rapid acceleration like putting your foot down in an F1 car will increase the forces felt, as will cornering at high speeds, as well as going from high speed to a dead stop as a driver will do when they crash. G-force isn’t an exact measurement, although it is used extensively in research in many scientific fields. Knowing how velocity affects the g’s felt by an F1 driver helps designers massively.
F1 drivers can feel anywhere up to 6.5 g’s during heavy braking or high-speed cornering. During a high-speed crash an F1 driver may be subjected to 50 g’s or more at the point of impact. Only top-class safety technology keeps the drivers safe under such forces.
The amount of force a driver feels depends on several factors, with the most important being whether they are accelerating or decelerating. When it comes to cornering, the angle of the corner is also a consideration, as the faster a driver can go into a corner and the shape of the corner both impact the forces a driver feels.
Another aspect of g-force that we should take into account is the length of time a driver feels the effects. Prolonged g-force exposure can be fatal. Although a human can survive short bursts of over 100 g’s, such as in a car crash, that amount of force for more than a few seconds could be fatal.
Taking a sharp corner at anywhere from 120-180 mph can exert between 4-6.5 g’s of force onto a driver’s body, making them feel like they are being squashed in a vice. Depending on the conditions, and the closeness of other cars which may mean a driver slows down, cornering can be 2 g’s on one corner, then 4 or 5 g’s on another.
And given the number of corners each circuit has, and the number of laps that a driver is expected to complete over a full race, the physical punishment a driver takes over a two-hour race is astonishing. It is partly due to the strain a driver endures that the two-hour race limit was imposed. Mentally exhausting, and physically crushing, an F1 race takes everything a driver can give.
Aside from feeling like you’ve left your stomach about half a mile back down the racetrack, the g-forces felt by a driver under maximum acceleration are around 2 g’s. Accelerating is one of the gentler parts of F1 racing oddly enough, considering F1 is all about speed.
One benefit to accelerating in an F1 car is that it can be gradual. It’s still rapid, but it’s a steady line of acceleration that the driver can become accustomed to. As the car picks up speed, the forces exerted increase in tandem with the acceleration, until the driver hits either the maximum speed they can reach, or they are forced to apply the brakes.
When braking, an F1 car can easily hit 5 g’s, and given the number of times in a race that a driver needs to brake as they corner or avoid other cars, a driver will feel like they have been squashed for two solid hours. Once a car’s brakes are at their peak temperature, a driver can stop very quickly, causing their internal organs to feel like they are being pushed out of their chest.
An F1 car can accelerate from 0-60 in 2.4 seconds, hit 125 mph in about 4 seconds, and then decelerate to a dead stop within 215 feet, and this rapid increase and decrease in lateral velocity increase the g’s a driver feels dramatically. Thankfully, a driver has many ways to train themselves to deal with these stresses, but one thing a driver can’t train for when it comes to g-force is crashing.
Going from 200 mph to a near stop thanks to applying the brakes is one thing, and the 5 g’s felt are expected and prepared for, but going from 200 mph down to zero because of a crash is quite another. An F1 car crashing can see g-forces of between 50 and 100 g’s, which is exactly as bad as it sounds.
There has been an extraordinary amount of work put into driver safety over the past few decades, especially regarding the super-strong materials used. Materials such as carbon fiber, and the nearly impenetrable monocoque that cocoons the drivers, have meant that dozens of lives have been saved. F1 is still one of the most dangerous sports around, but it is also one of the most safety conscious.
Driving an F1 car doesn’t have the same level of g-force as flying a fighter jet. However, the fighter pilots have more equipment to deal with the extreme forces involved when flying and they don’t experience high-g’s often, or for extended periods.
There are inevitable comparisons between flying a fighter jet and driving an F1 car, both go at incredible speeds, both offer inherent dangers, and the g-forces that are involved are invariably out of this world. With maximum g-forces being recorded of up to 6.5-7 g’s on a racetrack, and around 9-10 g’s in a MiG-35 or Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet, both pilots and drivers suffer serious punishment.
There are key differences, however, as a jet pilot will be wearing a G-suit, which inflates to combat the effects when the pilot goes through maneuvers that will cause extreme g-forces. An F1 driver has no such luxury and although the forces felt in an F1 car are lower than those felt in a fighter jet, they are felt more often, albeit for shorter periods of time.
Both fighter pilots and Formula 1 drivers are renowned for their fondness for speed, although in this comparison it’s the pilot who yet again comes out on top. The top speed of an F1 car is around 215 mph, which is ridiculously fast. Great traction and an aerodynamically designed car allow the F1 car to cut through the air with downforce keeping it firmly on track.
A fighter jet can reach speeds of up to Mach 1.8 (you know something is fast when it has to have a whole new unit for the speed) which equates to around 1,190 mph. At eyeball-popping speeds of over 1,000 mph, a fighter jet turning sharply can exert up to 9 g’s of force, making an F1 car look like an ice-cream truck turning around.
Ultimately both roles are extremely dangerous and incredibly difficult to master, but they are such different roles that it’s hard to be harsh on either one in a direct comparison. An F1 driver may struggle to deal with the increase in g’s they would experience in a jet, but a pilot may find they can’t handle the reaction times needed if they were to find themselves racing in an F1 car.
Both F1 driving and flying fighter jets are the absolute pinnacles of their respective professions, and both require focus, athleticism, and dedication. Very few people get the chance to be either pilot or F1 driver, as the competition is fierce, and the standards required are so exacting that any tiny loss of performance can result in not making the grade.
F1 drivers must undergo extreme fitness regimes and focus on breathing exercises to prepare them for the g-forces they will experience during a race. With an emphasis on the neck and chest muscles, F1 drivers can maintain concentration and navigate complex corners under high g-forces.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, assuming a motorsport driver can be as unfit as they like, as the car does all of the heavy lifting for them. The reality, however, is very different, as an F1 driver has to maintain a level of fitness that most people would consider extreme. Rigorous training allows an F1 driver to be able to withstand the incredible g-forces a race can generate.
Strong neck muscles are a must if a driver is to stay focused on the race as they corner at incredible speeds, and a great deal of work is done on the trapezius muscles to increase neck strength. Side-on resistance training using a harness around the neck allows a driver to prepare for the g-forces that cornering at speed brings.
F1 drivers are constantly working out in order to keep their bodies in top condition. Weight training, running, and numerous other exercises are needed to build up muscle strength. It’s a fine line though, a driver needs to try to keep a reasonable weight as the heavier they are, the heavier their car will be. It may only be a few pounds or kilos, but every ounce counts in F1.
Some drivers train their shoulder and neck muscles by wearing a helmet that is attached to pulleys, which drags their heads in various directions, forcing them to tense and condition their muscles. A driver will spend a large proportion of their daily exercise on building up their neck, and this low-tech yet efficient training method has proven to be great for preparing a driver for the effects of g-forces.
A driver also needs to have full mobility, so overdoing it is also a bad idea, as a bulked-up F1 driver won’t have the same freedom of movement if their shoulders are massively muscled. A low center of gravity helps keep the car aerodynamic, and the same goes for the driver, so building up key muscles such as the chest and neck are important, but so is a good diet and healthy living.
The higher the g-force on a driver, the harder it is to breathe properly, so ensuring a driver exercises well means they can better cope when feeling the potential 6 g’s when cornering. Running and cycling, and other cardiovascular exercises give drivers regulated breathing, and a steady heart rate, and help them make it through each burst of acceleration and each corner that little bit easier.
Aiming for a heart rate of 140-170 BPM during exercises means that when racing, a driver is used to having a slightly elevated heart rate. The more comfortable a driver is when out of their comfort zone, the easier it is to manage g-force more effectively. The preparation a driver does, and the exercises they perform daily, turn what looks like a weekend job into a full-time one.
The F1 corners with the highest g-forces are:
- Albert Park Turn 11: 6.5 G
- Albert Park Turn 1: 6 G
- Mexico Turn 1: 6 G
The longer a driver spends turning at a corner, the longer they have to endure the often bone-crushing effects of g-forces of up to 6 g’s. Some of the best corners in F1 are also some of the most punishing, but which corners actually test a driver physically as well as mentally?
The Australian Grand Prix has several excellent corners that test a driver to the limit. As well as being tough to navigate, the forces that the driver suffers can show who can handle the pressure. Turns one and eleven are both capable of exerting between 6 g’s and 6.5 g’s, and with 58 laps to cope with in a two-hour race a driver has to be ready for action as they race around the track.
The readmittance of the Dutch Grand Prix at the Vandervoort racetrack is reputedly one of the most challenging circuits around in F1 today. The high-speed, fast-cornering track is expected to exert over 5 g’s of force on multiple corners. This means drivers have much less time to recover before hitting another corner that pushes their bodies to the limits.
Several corners are banked, which will put not only lateral forces upon the drivers but also vertical g’s as the car is pushed down as well as laterally. Drivers will literally have to drive while feeling as if they are being folded up and put into a shoebox!
1. Jules Bianchi, Japanese Grand Prix 2014 – 254 G
On a truly dark day for F1, driver Jules Bianchi hit a tractor that was in the process of removing the crashed car of Adrian Sutil at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. After being rushed to the hospital Bianchi was put into an induced coma before passing away in 2015. The estimated g-force from this truly heart-breaking crash was around 254 g’s.
2. Roman Grosjean, Bahrain Grand Prix 2020 – 67 G
During the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean ended up hitting the wall at an odd angle at 67 g’s before his car broke in two and exploded in a horrific crash. Thankfully, Grosjean survived his crash with only second-degree burns on both hands and an injury to his leg – a lucky escape after having been sat in his burning car for some time.
3. Max Verstappen, British Grand Prix 2021 – 51 G
Max Verstappen at the 2021 British Grand Prix went in to turn 9 desperately seeking championship points to keep pace with Lewis Hamilton. After colliding with Hamilton at Copse corner, Verstappen’s Red Bull car hit the wall at a spine-crunching 51 g’s. Thankfully he walked away unscathed, and even went on to win the championship the same year.
4. Fernando Alonso, Australian Grand Prix 2016 – 46 G
In 2016, Spanish driver Fernando Alonso crashed at the Australian Grand Prix. He endured an eye-watering 46 g’s and he barely hit the wall – it was simply the force of the car spinning that generated such a high amount of force.
Driving in F1 is incredibly demanding, and spectators rarely get the sensation that a driver can being crushed by g-forces that can make them feel 6 times their weight in a corner. This constant battle with high g-forces is why drivers need to be so fit and look so exhausted after a race.
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